Lowell Hawthorne, CEO of Golden Krust Found Dead; How to Structure a Family Business Upfront

Lowell Hawthorne Image via The Last Tradition

The President and CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill died from an apparent suicide. The New York City Police Department reported that Lowell Hawthorne died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Investigators recovered a handgun and a note. However, the police would not disclose the contents of the note.

Many family members and friends are trying to figure out, why? Why would a well-known and prominent businessman end his life in such a tragic way? Authorities are investigating the circumstances leading up to his death, according to USA Today.

The announcement of Lowell Hawthorne’s death sent shock waves through the West Indian community. Hawthorne’s story is one of tremendous success. In 1989, he and several family members started what they thought would be just a small business. Within 3 years, the chain expanded into a franchise. Currently, there are over 120 stores nationwide. In addition, Golden Krust distributes their products to New York City schools, correctional institutions, supermarkets, hospitals, and other retail outlets.

When I heard about Mr. Hawthorne’s death, I contacted a distributor of Golden Krust products in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. Mike Palmer owns MP Island Cafe, a Caribbean restaurant. The two business owners met in 1991, in the Bronx New York. At least, twice a month Palmer and Hawthorne would see each other. Mr. Palmer said the Jamaican community is deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Hawthorne. “Mr. Hawthorne was a great businessman, and true success story coming from the Island of Jamaica.”

Whenever the two spoke, Hawthorne always had a few words of encouragement. They even discussed building a Golden Krust franchise in the Norfolk area. Hawthorne’s death is a tragedy and a surprise to his distributor.  However, Mr. Palmer believes the franchise will continue to operate without any major impact on their customers.

CEO Plagued by Tax Debt and A Lawsuit

According to the Daily News, Hawthorne was “deep in tax debt.” Also, he was a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. Citing unpaid wages, Robert Wray filed a lawsuit in the Manhattan Federal Court. Wray claims he wasn’t paid for overtime work in the 11 years he was employed as maintenance staffer with the company.

Furthermore, a police source reported Hawthorne was “worried” about the possibilities of tax liens and he feared that the federal government was investigating him for tax evasion. Reportedly, he owed more than $150,000 in city taxes on the company’s buildings. Plus, he owed at least $15,000 in states taxes according to the NY Daily News. This leaves us wondering if there isn’t more to the story?

A likely question is, would owing money be a reason to commit suicide?  Hawthorne’s net worth is reportedly $70 million dollars. More specifically, Golden Krust’s annual revenue is $100 million per year. No doubt, contents of the suicide note may be the key to understanding what happened.

Golden Krust Franchise

Indeed, Golden Krust became a household name not only to Jamaicans but to anyone that enjoys eating patties or Jamaican dishes. A Jamaican patty is a pastry that contains various fillings and spices baked into a flaky shell. Basically, the patty’s filling contains seasoned beef, chicken or vegetables. Yummy!

Golden Krust Patties Image via Instagram

Also, the franchise sold authentic Caribbean cuisines. In fact, one of my favorite Golden Krust meals is rice and peas and curry chicken.

Rice and Peas and Curry Chicken Image via Instagram

Family Owned Business

Similarly, like Bob Marley’s family, the Hawthorne family fully controls their businesses. After the death of the former recording artist, Bob Marley’s widow Rita Marley created a worldwide brand. Lorna Hawthorne is the wife of the late Lowell Hawthorne and she is the Director of Human Resources. More than likely, Mrs. Hawthorne will continue to build the family’s empire.

The couple has 3 sons and 1 daughter. They are all active members of the franchise. Omar is the Director of Franchise Development and Community Affairs; Haywood is the Vice President of Information-Technology and Manufacturing and Daren is the Corporate Counsel and Executive President of Franchising. Their daughter, Monique oversees the Marvis and Ephraim Hawthorne Golden Krust Foundation. In light of the situation, one of the family members will take over the role of CEO and President of Golden Krust.

How to Start a Franchise

Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill is a privately held corporation as well as a franchisor of Caribbean restaurants. In 2003, Golden Krust was recognized by Black Enterprise Magazines as one of the Top 100 National Black-owned Companies in the United States.

The Hawthorne family started their business in the family’s basement with 40 family members. “Many family ventures start as a side project and are pretty casual when it comes to formalities,” according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

However, legal experts highly recommend structuring a family business. For example, create a legal document like a Partnership Agreement or Operating Agreement. This document should outline salary and dividend payouts. It should also clarify roles, responsibilities, expected work schedules and commitments from each family member.

Per Entrepreneur, “For the typical small family business, the LLC is a great choice in business structure, since it offers liability protection without adding the administrative formalities associated with a corporation. In addition, an LLC is typically taxed as a pass-through entity, and business profits and losses flow through to the owner’s individual tax returns.”

The company released a statement, “Golden Krust stores will remain open during regular hours, as we continue to take the Taste of The Caribbean, to the world.” Above all, Lowell Hawthorne will be remembered for his tenacity and determination to turn a small family business into a worldwide enterprise.

GCE sends our condolences to the Hawthorne family.


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